Matches (25)
ENG v NZ (W) (1)
Legends WC (1)
LPL (3)
TNPL (4)
ZIM v IND (2)
MLC (3)
T20 Blast (8)
RHF Trophy (3)

Teenager Archie Lenham rides his luck during 'crazy' debut season

Sussex's 17-year-old legspinner, the first "Blast baby", is taking it all in his stride

David Hopps
David Hopps
Archie Lenham is mobbed by his team-mates after taking a catch, Surrey vs Sussex, Vitality Blast, Kia Oval, June 17, 2021

Archie Lenham is mobbed by his team-mates after taking a catch  •  Getty Images

Is cricket cool? Well, there's a loaded question if ever there was one. Even its greatest devotees would struggle to contend that it has ever been the height of fashion, not in England at any rate, where periodic attempts to improve its image have failed to shake a resistance movement that imagines it can be a little, shall we say, monotonous.
So is cricket cool? Archie Lenham, the first Blast baby, the first county professional born after the birth of T20 in England, has no doubts. "I think it's really cool," he said, with the confidence of a 17-year-old who had just spent a week with Southern Brave (inactive maybe but highly instructive) during the climax to the Hundred. For once, he will not be drowned out by cries of derision when he modestly responds: "I think my mates are quite proud of me."
The debate over how the Hundred can co-exist symbiotically with county cricket remains a pressing and complex one, but that's for others to work out: for the likes of Lenham, cricket feels a little different and with good fortune he has a career ahead of him to lap it up.
"Before I came into the Hundred I was watching on TV and I thought it was really cool," he said. "Just the crowds - the last couple of games I have been at the crowds were electric, really loud, really getting behind the sides. I really enjoy white-ball cricket."
Next up is the Vitality Blast quarter-final against Yorkshire on Tuesday night and, as it must be staged on a neutral ground because Headingley is hosting the third Test against India, the atmosphere at Chester-le-Street might be a bit of a come down. Not the message the Blast needs to send as it takes up the mantle. Capacity crowds will follow later in the week.
Lenham's legspin is expected to be central to Sussex's challenge, something that was inconceivable when this season's tournament started. Then he burst onto the scene in his second game, against Hampshire at Hove, when he took a wicket with his first ball, held a skier and generally had the time of his life in one of the great stories of the summer. That positive impression remained by the end of the group stages as his bowling stats stacked up alongside such luminaries as Chris Jordan, Tymal Mills and, briefly, the Afghan legbreak bowler, Rashid Khan.
Luke Wright, Sussex's seasoned T20 captain, is just one of several senior players who have wrapped a protective shell around Lenham.
"Any time you get to play some youngsters it's a breath of fresh air and I think it's just getting the balance right," Wright said. "We're lucky that in the T20 side we've got a lot of senior guys to help the young guys when they come in. In the four-day team that's the difficulty, that there's hardly any senior players there to help them and guide them through.
"That's a challenge in its own right for that team but for ours, obviously Archie has been the standout and has been a great story. More than any skill, for me it's always the character. For any youngster to be able to come in and play in front of decent-sized crowds and land the ball like he has done, that's a testament to his character."
It's all pretty crazy to be honest. At the beginning of the season playing my first Sussex second team game, then making my full debut. Six weeks later I'm training with Southern Brave in the Hundred
Archie Lenham
Wright also signed at 16, for Leicestershire. His county debut came in 2003, the inaugural season of T20 in England, but many players were reluctant to take it too seriously and it was approached in a hit-and-miss fashion. It was a different world.
"There wasn't really an academy at Leicester so I was on the playing staff. I certainly wasn't playing T20 in front of big crowds. But I see a lot of traits in terms of absolutely loving it and throwing himself in at the deep end - that was something that I wanted at that time.
"I don't think you see the negatives at that age where you worry about failing or anything, you just see the positives of playing. You have no worries and no fear whatsoever. You can give him the ball against the best players and he's still excited. He obviously got a go in the Hundred with the Brave and then got a winners' medal so he's not had the worst year, so hopefully he can go even better and win the Blast as well."
Lenham's level-headed and equable nature is striking considering the demands placed upon him. It was only a few hours before the Hundred final when he agreed to a video chat - he had just finished a bowler's meeting - and he undertook it with a relaxed and generous air that did him great credit.
He has been fortunate to have been surrounded by good advice since birth, whether it is his from his father, Neil, grandfather, Les, both former Sussex players, or his mother, Petch. Both his parents coach cricket at his school, Bede's School in Hailsham, set in 140 glorious acres of the Sussex Downs. Then Sussex's spin bowling coach, Ian Salisbury, who also coaches the 1st XI in the Championship and 50-over competitions, is a former England leggie. There are far too many to mention. Everywhere, support when it is needed.
"I don't feel the pressure too much," he said. "My first Sussex game I was really nervous, walking out to look at the pitch before the game and obviously they all saw me not talking very much and came over and helped me out a lot. CJ [Chris Jordan] just tells me, 'just try to get a wicket, I don't mind if you get hit, we back you,' so it takes a lot off my shoulders.
"Ian Salisbury is a brilliant legspin coach so that experience is really useful for me. He is really good with tactics - field settings and where to bowl to different batsmen, when I should use my variations and so on."
And, most recently, a week with Brave and a chance for their coach, Mahela Jayawardene, a consummate player of spin bowling, to offer his own input. At barely 17, such experiences are invaluable - and Lenham knows it.
"He has been helping me with trying to find new variations and change my pace, maybe a slower ball from back of the crease, so that batsmen don't get used to me. I bowl it pretty quickly. In England quite a lot of the pitches we play on don't turn big so if you bowl too quickly people can line you up a little bit. Just do things that play in the batsmen's heads so they don't get used to you.
"It's all pretty crazy to be honest. At the beginning of the season playing my first Sussex second team game, then making my full debut I was thinking this is really cool. Then six weeks later I'm training with Southern Brave in the Hundred in their squad for the final. Now a Blast quarter-final against Yorkshire. I would never have dreamed about it at the start of the season."
Whether he even sneaks in a Championship debut might be influenced by whether Sussex reach Finals Day in the Blast, although there is an end-of-season match against Derbyshire at Hove, a game of no great consequence, which might offer an opportunity, and which will not risk affecting his white-ball rhythm.
Then it is back to Bede's for the start of his final year - and BTECs in Double Sport and Business. Mostly course work - except he has been doing it for real - with a single exam that might put the cricket on the back burner for a couple of months (hours?) early next season. "Luckily, Bede's have been really good to me so they have given me extensions on work."
Archie Lenham says "luckily" a lot, and you sense that he appreciates how lucky he is. He has gone a long way to showing this summer how deserving he is.

David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps